Survivor: ‘I wasn’t supposed to have kidney cancer. But I did!’

Written By:Stacy Simon
close up portrait of Jamie Swift

Jamie Swift is not your typical kidney cancer survivor. She was 38 years old in April 2015 when she noticed blood in her urine. A nurse, she diagnosed herself with a kidney stone. When she later began having pain in her lower right side, she was even more certain she had a stone.

Kidney cancer more often affects people who are older. The average age at diagnosis is 64. It’s also more common in men than women. Risk factors include smoking, obesity, exposure to cancer-causing substances in the workplace, and certain inherited conditions. Swift had none of these risk factors.

The pain in her side got so bad she went to the emergency room, where doctors also thought Swift had a kidney stone. But a CT scan showed a mass on her right kidney. It was cancer. Swift eventually learned she had Stage III renal cell carcinoma. It was, says Swift, “a complete shock.” The tumor was large, 10 cm.

But the tumor had not yet spread outside of Swift’s kidney, and she was able to have surgery to remove it, and the cancer along with it. She didn’t receive radiation or chemotherapy. “I have actually struggled with identifying as a cancer survivor,” said Swift. “But over the past year I’ve realized I AM a cancer survivor. The emotional journey of cancer affects us all, even if we aren’t on the typical journey of chemo and radiation. It’s been a process to accept that.”

I have actually struggled with identifying as a cancer survivor, but over the past year I've realized I AM a cancer survivor. The emotional journey of cancer affects us all, even if we aren't on the typical journey of chemo and radiation.

Jamie Swift

‘Don’t go it alone.’

Swift says everyone who has faced a cancer diagnosis should reach out, whether they need a lot of resources or just a little. “Don’t go it alone. You’re justified for your feelings no matter how long your battle. We are all cancer survivors,” said Swift.

After her diagnosis, Swift received support from local American Cancer Society staff whom she’d met through her involvement in Relay For Life events in her local communities of Jonesborough and Washington County in Tennessee. She and her family have had a fundraising team every year since 2004 when Swift’s best friend, Michelle, found out she had breast cancer. Unfortunately, Michelle died at age 32. 2004 was also the year Swift’s father, a lung cancer survivor, was diagnosed.

In 2015, a few months after her surgery, Swift participated in Relay For Life for the first time as a survivor. “I’d been on the sidelines and cheered for survivors, but never dreamed I’d walk the survivors’ lap, said Swift. “It was pretty emotional walking that lap with my dad. It was one of the most emotional moments I’ve had through my entire journey.”

Swift’s Relay For Life contacts gave her encouragement and help. They ordered her a Personal Health Manager kit to help her organize and keep track of medical appointments, contact information, prescriptions, test results, and other paperwork. She still uses it today. Swift also consulted the American Cancer Society website to learn more about her diagnosis and re-read information she’d been told by her doctors. “I only looked at ACS information because as a health care worker, I know some of the things you can find online are not factual,” said Swift. She said she is particularly offended by ads that offer false hope by claiming that taking supplements or eating certain foods will cure cancer.

‘Appreciate the small things’

Swift says having cancer brought her even closer to God. “I knew God was there and I wasn’t alone,” she said. She has traveled to churches in other cities to share her story of faith and her story of surviving cancer. She says having had cancer gave her time to embrace important things.

“Before cancer, I was constantly busy with my home and professional life. Cancer forced me to slow down and appreciate the small things in life. In the days after my surgery, I would typically go home, sit on the back porch, and watch my kids play. Before, I don’t know if I would have taken the time to sit and watch them,” said Swift.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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